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Accused Boston Marathon bomber due in court on Thursday

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[December 18, 2014]  BOSTON (Reuters) - Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is due in court on Thursday, his first appearance in public in more than a year, as his lawyers prepare for the January start of his trial on charges of carrying out the deadly 2013 attack.

Tsarnaev, 21, last appeared at U.S. District Court in Boston in July 2013, when he was charged with killing three people and injuring more than 260 with a pair of homemade pressure cooker bombs at the race's crowded finish line on April 15, 2013. He also was charged with fatally shooting a university police officer three days later.

At the time of that appearance, Tsarnaev's left arm was in a cast and his face appeared swollen, signs of the injuries suffered during a gunbattle with police on the night of April 18, 2013, that ended with the death of his brother, Tamerlan, also accused with playing a role in the attack.

Tsarnaev escaped that conflict, prompting a day-long lockdown of most of the greater Boston area, before he was found hiding in a drydocked boat in a Watertown, Massachusetts, backyard the next evening.

 

He faces the possibility of execution if convicted in a trial expected to run for three months. The court plans to weed through more than 1,000 people to find 12 jurors and six alternates to hear the case.

Thursday's hearing is the final pre-trial conference in Tsarnaev's case. In the weeks leading up to the trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys are disputing a range of issues including how much they must disclose about the witnesses they plan to call.

The Tsarnaev brothers had moved to the United States from Russia's restive Chechnya region a decade before the attack. Dzhokhar left a scrawled note inside the boat where he was captured indicating that the marathon attack had been motivated by U.S. military campaigns in Muslim countries.

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Tsarnaev's attorneys had asked that the trial be held outside Boston, contending that since hundreds of thousands of spectators attend the Boston Marathon, it would be all but impossible to find an impartial panel of people who had not been present the day of the attack or known someone who had been.

U.S. District Judge George O'Toole denied that request, noting the court had recently seated juries in other high-profile cases, including the 2013 trial of former mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, who was found guilty of racketeering and murder.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott)

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